Wednesday, August 16, 2017


Instead of cutting edge neurology and philosophy theories, I want to look at ideas from hunting and frontier life as laid out in Daniel Justin Herman’s “Hunting and the American Imagination.”  While everyone else seems locked into the confrontation between the North and South/Black and White, I prefer to work from the West, not the Civil War but the Range Wars that came from the culture-mixing thrashing about on top of the Native American civilization, maybe partly spinning off from the Civil War.

These ideas developed from a history of hunting in America, as it was imported from Europe..  The premise is simple:  when Euros first considered a whole new continent ahead of them, they split into two kinds of expectations — parties, if you like.  As the dust jacket on “Hunting and the American Imagination” (2001) puts it, Herman is contrasting “the democratic legend of Daniel Boone” with “the hunting with hounds of European aristocrats.”  “America’s sport hunters ultimately saw themselves as the self-reliant ‘American Natives’ they had displaced and claimed to be heirs of the continent and natural stewards over its land and wildlife.

One part was determined to go to this new place and set up a replica of Europe and Britain but with THEM as the top, the kings and emperors.  Their aim was to own a big swatch of land that they could fence for their own private use and hunting grounds.  (Some say this is the source of the one part of the environmental movement, the interest of the elite in protected land as demonstrated by the Sierra Club, Nature Conservancy and Ted Turner.)  

The other “party” saw a new continent as a chance to create a new kind of country where everyone was equal.  To them the forests and prairies were for everyone to hunt in freely, so that no one need go hungry.  They were more open to the idea of including the indigenous people in their plans.  But they didn’t quite grasp that indigenous people are very different in different ecologies.  Instead the whites tended to raise the idea of being native into a kind of transcendent virtue.  But sooner than expected, they reached the limits of the land.  And stigma dumped the noble sauvages into the ditch.

Another split in American culture came about because of urbanization: as the nation became a small town bourgeois nation of clerks, men sought other ways to show their manliness.  Herman contrasts “pugilism” with hunting, the former being kind of low class (maybe like today’s cage fighting) and the latter implying privilege and travel for adventures.  So Trump imagines himself pounding down a personified CNN and his sons have the resources to go cut the tail off an elephant, which they assume only the privileged are able to do.  (Personally, I think they should have to eat that elephant.  Our family rule was that you eat what you shoot.  I come from a context of food hunting.) 

So what I see in Charlottesville in these white self-announced entitled Nazis and so on are pugilist adolescents, basically burger-flippers who eat their product, looking for manliness while living with Mom.  They are not warriors, but rather a mob.  It is very strange to watch them when one’s primary consciousness is with Native Americans.  All the cries of “go home” neglect the fact that the indigenous peoples have been wishing they would do exactly that for hundreds of years.  

These seekers of power carry bats and sticks for fighting because they can’t afford guns, thank goodness.  And the army won’t take them.  (The elite military and sophisticated hunting are closely related as markers of gentry, which is why Trump likes generals, though his version of hunting is chasing a little white ball down a hole.)

Herman’s two other books look at range wars along these lines but focused on the Mogollon Rim and then Mormonism in Mexico.  Rim Country Exodus: A Story of Conquest, Renewal, and Race in the Making (2012) was written next.  “Across east-central arizona runs a long, cliff-like escarpment, towering at some points a thousand feet, elsewhere two thousand, over the surrounding countryside. In the middle of the state, just below Flagstaff, the escarpment falls back repeatedly at perpendicular angles where creeks—Clear Creek, Beaver Creek, Fossil Creek, Sycamore Creek, Oak Creek—cut deep canyons in their search for the ocean. At its eastern extremity, that escarpment—known as “the Rim,” or “the Mogollon Rim,” after an eighteenth-century New Mexico governor—buries itself in the morass of the White Mountains, cinder cones that rise to almost 12,000 feet.”

Hell on the Range: A Story of Honor, Conscience, and the American West (The Lamar Series in Western History) (2013) is Herman’s second book.  Yale University Press News, in “A Reading List for the Current Racial Climate in America” includes this book.  “The Pleasant Valley War, sometimes called the Tonto Basin Feud, or Tonto Basin War, or Tewksbury-Graham Feud, was a range war fought in Pleasant Valley, Arizona in the years 1882-1892.”

In it Herman suggests “Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush were war mongers. . . Reagan and Bush were, in many ways, the creations of Zane Grey and the empire of Western novels and movies that followed him." (p. 289).”  I agree, except that I would point out that the tsunami of Western television series BEFORE Reagan was president often featured what I call “stand down” plots.  Matt Dillon and Mr. Favor and the Wagon Train boss stood for finding non-violent solutions first.  Maybe you could call those Eisenhower Westerns.

Herman suggests a basic conflict between what he calls “honor and conscience." He explains "honor tended toward assertion, strength, fierceness, combat. Conscience tended toward restraint, modesty, sympathy." (p. xxii) “  If — as a reviewer commented — honor might in this instance better be described as pride, then we could say Trump wants honor, but Obama has conscience and ended up with the honor without resorting to combat.  (Bill Clinton does not fit into this formulation.  LBJ comes down as a combatant.)  Trump in his cowardice loses everything he wants, evidently because he can’t tell what honor is, except profit.  Honor cannot be inherited — it must be earned again and again.

Herman’s fourth book is fiction:  “Summer of the Guns.”  The Amazon squib says:  “In the desolate cityscape of Depression-era Phoenix, twelve-year old Billie Jean Moran has journeyed west to flee a troubled past with her deaf sister, Sara. But they find themselves in the midst of another catastrophe--this time involving a scandal that implicates even the Arizona governor. When political crooks peg Billie's African-American father as an unsuspecting fall guy, Billie and Sara are forced to go into hiding. In the course of their ordeal, the sisters find unlikely allies in the form of a broken-down ex-insurance salesman, a juvenile delinquent, and a prison nurse. Through bravery and cunning, Billie, Sara, and their friends bring the real criminals to justice and triumph over fear, discrimination, and injustice.”

Sounds very modern except for missing the “spiritual” element, obligatory these days.  I hope there are “Indians.”  I’ll ask for a review copy.  I can’t afford any more books this fall.  Anyway, I should probably reread this densely packed earlier book of ideas called “Hunting and the American Imagination.”  I read it two decades ago, but it seems newly useful.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017


You won’t know me until you know the structure of my hallucinations.  Not the content, but the “structure” or “antistructure” — the latter because sometimes it’s the resistance to accepting certain convictions that defines me.


Origin and Etymology of “hallucinate” from Google sources

The Latin ending probably was influenced by vaticinari "to prophecy," also "to rave." Sense of "to have illusions" is from 1650s. Occasionally used in transitive senses, "to cause hallucination.”

Perception of objects with no reality usually arising from disorder of the nervous system or in response to drugs (such as LSD).

Latin hallucinatus, past participle of hallucinari, allucinari to prate, dream, modification of Greek alyein to be distressed, to wander


A big part of my structure is the conviction that everything is like an iceberg: most of it hidden, but that runs into my other conviction that if I could just understand it, then I could make things turn out a lot better, have the information needed to solve mysteries that are hurting people.  But I run into my family culture which shares the bourgeois conviction that propriety means secrecy.  

There’s enough alcoholism, poverty, and failure back through the generations to make anxiety reinforce secrecy.  But at least in me, it means I’m always looking for that moment when my aunt lifts out of a cardboard box of family studio portraits a semi-familiar face that turns out to be a paranoid schizophrenic uncle I never knew about, but who explains why my cousins were so afraid of someone mysterious who might come to the door.  And why my other uncles were so mockingly alert to difference. so invested in eliminating it.

I’m scary/wary Mary, but I’m also counter-phobic.  If something scares me enough or seems a threat to others, I’m “on it” as the police procedurals say.  This has happened enough in my life that I’m addicted to adrenaline and now that molecule hits me hard, but I don’t have the grasp to handle it anymore.  Aging is an interference.  I’m stiff and slow, even in terms of thinking.  Yet I still have the strong command, instilled in me as a child, to save everyone.  My attempts to help often end badly, which makes me end up opposing myself.

A third tension is between how much I project “wholesomeness” most of the time, which reads to some men as obedience, and can be undermined by my interest in wickedness.  I’ve never really been wicked, but close enough to see it vividly.  My “wholesomeness” is sometimes seen by others as childishness and weakness.  To be dangerous and outside the rules is protective, marks a person’s power because often it is unseen.  Not deliberately unseen, but just outside perception.

Partly I’m being jokey about all this, but on the other hand I’m dead serious.

Hallucination is a term chosen to emphasis the provisionalness of what we think the world is about.  You could say “weltenschauunge” which is much more impressive but means “world view” which is about the same thing.  What a competent psychoanalyst tries to do is to get a sense of the structure of your hallucinations, possibly by exploring the childhood when you were forming it.  Then to shift the evidence to an interpretation that allows change.

Gerrans’ book, “The Measure of Madness”, came today in the mail and I’m beginning to read it.  The vocabulary is technical: “doxastic” makes me grateful for Wikipedia in spite of its sins.  I had guessed that this word had something to do with the computer.  Doxing: search for and publish private or identifying information about (a particular individual) on the Internet, typically with malicious intent.”  Actually, the whole advertising world, plus the political world, is now deeply engaged with finding and using doxing.

But doxastic is not connected to that by usage and much precedes computers anyway, going back to the roots of logic.
Doxastic logic is a type of logic concerned with reasoning about beliefs. The term doxastic derives from the ancient Greek δόξα, doxa, which means "belief". Typically, a doxastic logic uses it to mean "It is believed that is the case", and the set denotes a set of beliefs.”

Gerrans is seeking a physiological description of obvious psychological problems like hallucinations that don’t fit reality.  Most of them DO, at least well enough to go unchallenged.  His premise is that the brain has a whole system of processing, little gates and actions, which include a two-step process:  generating a host of explanations for whatever evidence you’ve got, and then choosing among them for the best one (salience) that will be “real,” confirmed by success in the reality that most people agree is real.  (So far I see no way to escape this circularity, which is hard on nonconformists and heretics.)

Among my minister friends, one had an all-purpose traveling sermon called “Why is my kite down the sewer?”  One of the purposes of clergy is to provide a guide to salience:  which ideas are positive and moral.  (Are those two different things?  Maybe this is one way of looking at the liberal/conservative spectrum.  For the conservative, the moral answer is singular.)

The answer to the liberal sermonic question is multiple.  Maybe it was bad luck.  Maybe it was poor education.  Maybe it was culture shift.  Maybe it was bad genes or poverty.  Maybe it was due to some malevolent person or force personified that has followed you around and destroyed you at every turn.  The criteria for the salience (usefulness) of these convictions is life itself.

Gerrans posits that the brain as a physiological neurological organ — in terms of how it handles information — both proposes explanations and chooses among them, but these operations happen in different parts of the brain and if the “salience” function is damaged, hallucinatory explanations of the world may seem very real, regardless of results.  If a self-serving and reassuring hallucination is confirmed by a group, then the power of the idea is much exaggerated.  If the power is great enough, it can energize emotional potency justifying extreme action.  We just saw this in Charlottesville.  We see it more and more.  We elected it.

The UU clergy showed up in their yellow t-shirts and prayer scarves, talking about love, but they are just pushed out of the way by young men inflamed by their kites being down the sewer.  All that prattle about love means nothing to them.  They want power and the UU’s have none to offer.  Neither, evidently does any political body which has been denoted by our US Constitution as the formal source of power obligated to identify what is salient and to enforce that priority.  Not even the police were willing to use their power until it was too late to keep hallucination from becoming lethal nightmare.

Monday, August 14, 2017


This is a thought experiment meant to break up some assumptions.  It is bouncing off a Vanity Fair article in the most recent issue called “The 5th Risk” by Michael Lewis, which caught my attention because much of the article discusses the Hanford Reach radioactive contamination alongside the Columbia River, upstream from Portland, OR.  It was a calculated risk to be making bomb material there, but at that point the area was underpopulated, anxious for money, and looked at with a certain amount of denial of what might go wrong.  

The premise of the article is that putting Rick Perry, an adversary of regulation, in charge of the DOE — means that it’s no longer properly staffed, has a confused future, and is generally ignored though the danger is as high as from some adolescent threats from North Korea answered by senile threats from the USA.  Maybe higher risk, certainly sneakier.

Here are the five major risks that the Department of Energy is supposed to avert:
1.  A nuclear accident — not an attack, but a misadventure like the armed bombs that have broken away from airplanes and fallen to the ground.  So far none have exploded.  Dozens have come close.
2.  North Korea in its rage and threats
3.  Iran, obsessively
4.  Failure of the electrical grid
5.  Failure to deal with radioactive mess

Lewis decided to visit Hanford and set out from Portland along the Columbia River.

“An hour or so into the drive, the forests vanish and are replaced by desolate scrubland.  It’s a startling sight: a great river flowing through a desert.  Every so often I pass a dam so massive it’s as if full-scale replicas of the Department of Energy’s building had been dropped into the river.  The Columbia is postcard lovely, but it also an illustration of the MacWilliam’s fourth risk.  The river and its tributaries generate more than 40 percent of the hydroelectric power for the United States; were the dams to fail, the effects would be catastrophic.”

When Bonneville was first dedicated, my family visited its interior and saw the turbines whirling.  For me, they are a gigantic metaphor of power, but on a human scale.  I’ve been reading and writing about the historical consequences of the last major glaciation which scraped down along the east slope of the Rockies and eliminated all life except for a few refugia like the Sweetgrass Hills and their “sisters” along the border.   Only recently have scientists begun to think about who was here before the ice came rolling.  For those people “winter is coming” was very real.  It happened in Europe as well, but I’m thinking about North America right now.  It was the melting of that glacier that gouged out the Columbia River and its gorge.  Indigenous people saw it happen and spoke of it in myth.

This time it may very well be that the source of human catastrophe will be the Ring of Fire (named for volcanic action) that comes in the form of nuclear war or another bigger Fukushima mishap.  What would happen if the Pacific Northwest were devastated by radioactivity, either explosive or just permeative?  We think in terms of loss of life, but the infrastructure loss, including the dynamos of the dams, would mean a 40% loss of electrical supply for the entire nation. (See above.)  It would also mean the loss of Microsoft but would spare Apple.

Creeping radioactivity would not be like the slow scraping loss due to glaciers — more like the loss due to disease, like the smallpox that wiped out so many indigenous people.  Like smallpox, some people would survive, and the animals (after the initial violence) would adapt.  We know this because of the rebound of animals around the Hanford Reach and in Russia around Chernobyl.  (A few old babushkas also go on living there in their little houses with gardens.)

I suppose, if it weren’t for the difficulties of widespread delivery of enough sarin, poison would be a better choice from the point of view of enemies, because it would leave all the structures.  But their value is not passive.  Without the people who actually operate the dams, power lines, communication systems, and so on, the equipment and connections would be useless.  They are bionic.

In fact, this is what Perry’s DOE ignorance is losing: the expert knowledge of the bio part of energy: the thought, the practices, the checks and balances of government.  They are precisely what is seen by Trumpists as so much inconvenience and blocks to profit.

Michael Lewis mentions, but does not develop, the thought that the stakeholders who are really paying attention are the indigenous people.  Because they live there and have ever since the last glaciation which created the Columbia River when it melted.  Glaciers and floods are reciprocal.  In essence, the melting of the glaciers on Greenland and Antartica will flood the PNW.  Hard to get heads around.

Winter came from the north because that’s what it always does.  Radioactivity will move in from the West because that’s where the wind comes from, over the ocean, pushing along flotsam to the beaches and bringing in Chinooks and rain to the prairie.  Our soil here is inconvenient gumbo because of the rain of fine dust from the emergent PNW volcanoes of the Ring of Fire long ago.  Those who ignore deep history can’t learn geology.

What would the consequences of the depopulation of the West of the US be like?  What would Manhattan, Washington DC, and Los Angeles do about it?  Would they turn in on their pot-bound, rust-frozen, lead-poisoned selves and just build a wall?  I’d bet on it.  And the West would go back to being what it once was, a varied ecology that supports life in its splendid wovenness.  Except no humans.  Maybe some indigenous people who have adapted to salmon that glow in the dark.

The Hanford Reach

At this point in my composing, along came the news of Charlotte, NC.  I know those jejune hate-filled pseudo-Nazis.  I’ve been flunking them and putting them on detention for a long time.  I didn’t see women and children with them.  What’s different is that now the Montana representative punches out reporters.  The sheriff of my county is in court because a) his wife is divorcing him, b) he is alleged to have kicked his son while the boy was curled on the ground, c) he’s being recalled by petition for claimed incompetence.  Our former Representative Zinke is busy undermining the National Parks.  And the President is a buffoon who could probably not find either Guam or Montana on a map and doesn’t need to because he is owned and operated by Vladimir Putin who would like Russia back, even if it is getting drowned around the edges.  A land with no people begins to sound attractive.

Sunday, August 13, 2017


James Boyden

At last I found my copy of “The Orenda” and I’ve read a few more chapters, plus skipping around in the rest of the text.  I don’t know what the fuss is about, unless it’s about sales — name recognition acquired through controversy.  Which I consider even less of an indicator of worthiness than blood quantum, or whatever.   It’s an okay book, I guess, though there are some strange little glitches that irritate me, like using “oki” to mean something mysterious when in Blackfeet “oki” means hello.  It’s a little strange to worship “Hey there!

But this is basically science fiction, based on historical evidence from the Euro side.  The science being sociology:  research of accounts, observation of artifacts including photographs, and so on.  I mean, the goal is to make the taken for granted seem strange again and then be explained or at least entered.  It’s culture clash among tribes, Euros, missionaries, and so on.  The angle chosen to be interesting and new is that of a young female captive, which is smart considering that most readers these days are young females who feel captured by their lives.  Nothing really wrong with the book.  Mostly skillfully done.  No one living was there as a witness.

The good thing about the book is that it raises awareness of the Indian wars of the northeast, where their entangled complexities are hard to follow.  But the truth is that I’m not very interested, even though I’m aware that they were part of the American Revolution, which Boyden doesn’t address directly because he’s Canadian — well, when he’s not in New Orleans to escape the winter.

So I’ve put “The Orenda” down again and picked up another big fat book I’ve been meaning to read:  “The Dying Grass: A Novel of the Nez Perce War” by William T. Vollmann.  Part of his “Seven Dreams” series, the series is ecology-based:  “A Book of North American Landscapes” beginning far to the north and explored by going there.  This volume of the book series is about territory that I know, that I live in.    

“The Orenda” has 433 pages.  The Dying Grass” has 1356 pages, mostly because it is formatted as poetry, as lists, as dialogue — lots of space.  Draw your own conclusions.  One might be that Vollmann is three times the worthiness of Boyden.  In financial terms, which are the ONLY terms that count to publishers.

As I go slowly through “The Dying Grass”, I’ll make reports, since my reactions are bound to exceed one post.  But I feel as though the fuss about how indigenous Boyden is and the derived politics is pretty off-the-point.


Philip Gerrans

New research about what a human being is and how each of us can take care of our selves is scary.  The new motto is “I think, therefore I am not the person I was a minute ago.”  A person is a process being carried around by a collection of one-cell animals that help each other and keep the whole animal inside the boundaries set by survival:  enough air, water, food, movement, sex, dreaming — but not so much that it begins to be destructive.  Yet most humans feel that they want everything to stay the same, including themselves.  They fight change.

Some of this thought is coming through the study of psychedelics, which are finding a new role as meds for depression and even psychosis.  It seems to connect to genetic vulnerabilities, particularly a serotonin receptor in the brain (5-HT2A receptor).  LSD evidently has the capacity to dissolve old rigid and destructive “connectomes”, obsessions that can’t be escaped by reason.  This is what Geoff Mains was trying to convey in “Urban Aboriginals,” an early exploration of intense transformative SM, which was attributed partly to the power of ritual, of tribe, and of risk.  Mains introduced the idea of serotonin.

A recent article in Aeon, one of the most intelligent online magazines, says in its “pay-shot paragraph”:

"That the self is a model, not a thing, doesn’t mean it’s completely fluid and arbitrary. Quite the opposite: it is constructed from birth over many decades. Particularly at lower levels, the cognitive processes that the self-model binds together – perception, interoception, basic regulatory mechanisms – are not especially flexible. That’s why chaotic developmental environments are so damaging. Not only are they stressful in obvious ways, but in its formative years the mind has no stable patterns of experience on which to model a self.

The article is called “Model Hallucinations” and was written by Philip Gerrans and Chris Letheby, Australian college professors.  Gerrans’ book is entitled “The Measure of Madness: Philosophy of Mind, Cognitive Neuroscience, and Delusional Thought” (2014).  It’s significant that they are Australians.  You might recall that in the movie “The Right Stuff,” when the story goes where no man has gone before, it was in the context of the Australian aboriginals.  I’m binge-watching “Rush,” an Aussie series version of NYPD Blue , et al, and the character who is the Alpha (Josh), nearly uncontrollable in his power and arousability, has a violence-control therapist who is a female aborigine.  The screenwriters may be aware of this research, which will help move Josh through plot.

Isabelle Payette, a Quebecois commenter, says in response to the Aeon article:

“ . . .Psychedelics are the only substances I know that can be used as a catalyst for changing faulty perceptions - those that would qualify as psychotic or delusional. Or even schizo and parano types. Psychotherapy and medications rarely help much. If anything, meds prevents any type of healing or reset.

“I think that when a child is repeatedly exposed to emotional or physical abuse, he/she develops a dysfunctional (i.e. destructive) way to navigate in the world. Like as if he/she had been “told” by the universe: you are no good, you need to self-destruct. Hence addictions to mask this “imprint” on the soul - or the psyche.” . . .

“Ego dissolution seems a necessary step. No contest. This feeling of powerlessness can be addressed once and for all. The change in perception is needed so that the alignment with the universe he/she was meant to have from the get go.”

A decade of following Real Stories Gallery and the Cinematheque video blogs has taught me the truth of this.  The authors of the Aeon essay pull in historical and religious concepts that rhyme with the idea of the fluid “dancing” self, but the article also contains some very new concepts.

Cognitive binding “refers to the integration of representational parts into representational wholes by the brain.”  It’s that thing about seeing rabbit at a distance on a lawn, then thinking it’s a piece of paper blown by the wind, and finally — when close — knowing that it is a patch of sunlight coming through a nearby tree.

Predictive processing means you are more likely to see what you have already seen.  If you’ve never seen a bunny outside a cage, you’re not likely to project the idea of a rabbit onto a spot of light.  Also, it marks what is important.  When I started as an animal control officer — desperately over-motivated to perform well because I was the first female — I had to listen for my radio identity: “719.”  If today anyone says “719” whether it is the time or a number of something, my attention snaps to the speaker.

These phenomena of the processing connectomes in the brain lead to controlled hallucination, which is the version of the world that has been coded to us by our senses drawing on whatever it is out there, outside our skins.

“ . . . the self is a sort of meta-filter for the signals you get from the functioning of your whole organism. Our encounters with the world – actual, imagined or recalled – make us feel hot, cold, happy, sad, anxious or calm, and every gradation and combination of experience in between. Any time that the mind encounters such a flow of feelings and perceptions, it irresistibly attributes them to some underlying entity that accounts for what’s going on.”

If this sounds like religion, it is.  We tend to cluster into tribes according to how well we share our worldviews, which might be formed by various forces from environment to family to happenstance to intense relationship.  The less we share, the weaker any institution will be.  But there are different levels inside each person.

“ . . . a hierarchy of models, in which each level deals with different aspects of organismic functioning. The lower levels track and maintain the integrity of bodily boundaries, and regulate homeostasis and sensory-motor encounters with the world. These feelings are then integrated with higher-level cognition that creates the sense of ‘mineness’ for episodes of thought, involving processes such as memory, inference and imagination. Finally, at the highest levels we can use the narrative ‘I’ to express the fact that experience is integrated and bound together across this hierarchy and through time.”  The power of narrative, poetry, and image is in its involvement of levels and intense binding into meaning for identity.

There are two other interesting phrases: the salience network and the default mode.

The salience network allows us to feel the significance of bodily states triggered by worldly encounters.” 

The default mode network underlies episodes of autobiographical thought such as memory, imagination, planning and decision-making.”

I’ll have to think about these ideas.  I’ve always wanted to try LSD but, as I say, everyone thinks I’m too wholesome and sane to do it.  Maybe I should leave it at that. 

Saturday, August 12, 2017


Google photo stock

This little short story I posted yesterday about “the kid” is a key genre known by many peoples — maybe all peoples who tell stories.  It's a "bildungsroman" -- a story of coming of age.  It's a natural source of stories.

Here I’ll look at the specifics and where I got them in a way sort of like dream analysis: a bit here and a bit there, all stuck together.  It’s not “deep” or “special” in the way that some intense dreams might be, but just an assemblage of raw materials that are always around: family history, writing by friends, scenes from books, natural history, and so on.  We all have this resource.  You don’t buy it or learn it.  You are it.  

What you learn is how to access and use what you already know.  This is what T helped me learn to do with more courage than I had earlier, to go into the darkness and violence.  But I wanted this little exercise to be something that could be used in a classroom without being censored.

In a shadow way the original premise of the powerful father with intimate henchman son-in-law comes from current politics, both Trump and Manafort having closely associated sons-in-law, extensions of themselves through their daughters.  So this is a generational story (a genre?) that prompts the grandfather and “the kid” in an alliance that helps the kid grow up.  

The psych-out passive-aggressive women, who don’t help, come from a complaint of a friend about his childhood.  Women who are dependent on marriage will sometimes sacrifice their children.  Step children, esp. defiant boys, are easy to force out, but that's not this story.

If I were developing this into a novel, I’d look for ways the women resented their husbands taking priority over them, the limits put on them.  The outcome among the women is often alcoholism, violence or runaways, except that the larger culture may hold them in place.  

Gay is a wild card.  It can be a reason for throwing a kid out, or it can be a way for a kid to find a new family.  

The situation of extended family on a subsistence farm away from urban areas is certainly common in America and was the way most people lived a few decades ago, including my family on both sides.  My mother’s family was the one with tension among collaborating/competing alpha males, in that case brothers, living along a "creek".  People were forced together without enough ways to find happiness, because the economy -- and the lack of possibility that’s in cities -- holds them there.  And the culture insisted this was right and proper and just “suck it up.”  Those with a bit of education could escape through books.  This is as true in Valier today as it was in Roseburg when my cousins were kids.

I stole some of this from T from when we were writing together — alternating posts.  All writers and artists “steal” and sometimes they know it.  Other times they don't see it until much later.  Objections come from people who are trying to convert the art into a saleable product, reducing it to what they think will make people buy.  Stealing makes them nervous.  "Intellectual property" is sort of diaphanous.

Very UN-T-like is the low key of the story.  No “rising action” emergencies like near-drowning or accidental shooting.  No sex.  Everything is simply “told, not shown” which according to the experts is a rookie thing to do, and a big no-no because it isn’t immersive which is what they think sells — that experience of becoming part of the story because of triggered inner states like fear or love — hormonal and visceral responses.  By this state of the media, it takes something pretty outrageous to reach people's guts.  I'm not going there.

It’s a mode of story that I got from two sources, both oral.  One was listening to young kids tell the plots of movies or about something that happened, like over the past weekend.  They take great care for the narrative sequence and try to make sure they get in all the steps of action.  But they don’t tell description or motives.  The other source was casual story-telling while at coffee or sitting around.  Campfire stories sometimes, but those tend to have more description and artistic strategies that build suspense.  

I developed this style when writing “12 Blackfeet Stories” because I wanted the stories to be simple and logical in sequence so they could be retold orally, not dependent on a paper book being read.  I wanted them to be like people’s oral histories of their families and even maybe to be confused with reality, which they are based on, so that people told the stories to each other as truth.  A film with a lot of flashbacks and dream episodes can be pretty hard to tell someone.  Also, I wanted others to write stories and hoped this would be one way for them to copy.

When people talked to us about artifacts, people like John Hellson, they didn’t point out materials and so on, as much as they told stories about them.  They didn’t say, “the brass tacks on this belt were originally meant to be for upholstering furniture.”  They said, “This was my grandmother’s belt.  You can see that as she grew older and wider she had to make an extension in the back with this thong.”

Each of the "12 Blackfeet Stories" is based on an artifact in Bob Scriver’s book that is a photographic record of the Scriver Collection.  “The Blackfeet: Artists of the Northern Plains.”  The collection includes a gun collection that Bob bought complete.  A trader sells guns by telling a story about them.  One could sell a physical pre-existing book by telling a story about the bound object:  “This is a copy of ‘Bob, Son of Battle’, which belonged to my Scots immigrant grandfather, and it is written in an imitation of a Scots vernacular which makes it very hard to read.  See, here on the front is a photo of Bob.”  (I'm teasing you.  Bob and Battle are both collies, way before Lassie.)

Published in 1898

A bildungsroman could be told about every culture, place or time, whether or not the people there themselves told oral stories about boys coming of age and acquiring the powers of a man.  Most do.  In our culture, at least, they weren’t often told about girls.  There is a new genre called “Princess Stories” about girls like Arya in “Game of Thrones” who are of special birth and so claim power.  The “specialness” may not be genetic royal blood, but just the conviction that they can rise above class and hardship.  

Maybe Cinderella and the Little Mermaid are Princess Stories, and surely “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” is.   And Princess Leia. But’s not a bildungsroman if the protagonist marries their way up, is it?  And has babies?  Struggle as an individual is what makes heroes strong.  So in this story Milt and Hup have used marriage in a slantwise way that might be cheating.  The kid will not.

A sub-category of male bildungsroman is the outcast story, the boy caught in war, the boy who is gay, who is an immigrant, who has grown up on the street, and still he manages to survive and to grow into adulthood.  “Kim.”  “Empire of the Sun.”  “Huck Finn.”  I meant this short story to be in that sub-category.  And to be a pattern.

Friday, August 11, 2017


Stock photo from Google Images

Milt and Hup were very tight in that classic way of buddies that sometimes develops between men in combat.  They hadn’t been in combat together, but they both saw life as hostile and out to get them, so the feeling that they had each other’s backs was strong between them even though Milt was old enough to be Hup’s father but wasn’t.  Instead he was Hup’s father-in-law.

So Hup had married Milt’s daughter, Giselle, in order to have a formal, legal relationship to Milt.  He didn’t really love Giselle, but then he didn’t really love any other woman either.  The kid heard about all this with horror.  He’d gone to sleep behind the sofa where he’d been reading until his eyes got tired.  It was a good place to lie on his stomach where people wouldn’t step on him or spot him and think of something for him to do.  His mother was confronting his Aunt Theda, Hup’s sister so Milt’s daughter.  The two of them were shouting in a rage, but not quite at each other — rather at the injustice of life that refused to obey any kind of proper order.

“You know it’s true, Giselle.  It’s like my dad just gave you to Hup, his possession — men own women.  It in the goddamn wedding vows.”

“It’s perverse.  It shouldn’t be.  I’ll leave him.”

“You can’t.  You have no money, you have no skills, you have no close friends to help you.  You are trapped, honey, and I can’t help you because I’m in the same situation.  That’s the way it is here in this back country.”

The kid hadn’t thought of this as “back country.”  To him it was the center of the universe, it was home, there was no other conceivable place.  Neither could he understand why it was wrong for two men to love each other, two men he also loved in the world.  The only man he loved more was his father’s father, Papop.  Milt and Hup were subsistence hunters because that was how one survived in this rural place, but Papop was a fisherman and since the farm was bordered on one side by a river, he and the kid would walk down together and almost always return with a stringer of fish.  He didn’t even mind cleaning them.  It wasn’t like the bloody sad work of gutting animals.

The men of the farm were a fierce lot, knotted up with the necessity of work and the danger of not calculating some kind of risk, whether from the prices or from weather.  They didn’t keep many animals, so there wasn’t so much risk from bulls or boars.  They WERE the bulls and boars.  They called the women “hens,” and roosters made them laugh, esp. when the feathered ruffians fought for dominance.

Very rarely did the men take the kid hunting.  They said he was noisy and couldn’t think like a deer.  But they were wrong.  He often practised following the vague deer trails around the farm, through the woodlot and the undeveloped land beyond their boundaries.  When he glimpsed an animal, he slipped along behind it, watching to learn what it did, not intending to interfere.  

He was even better at understanding fish.  It may have been because he was an excellent swimmer, but somehow he understood water, its dynamics and power.  He could imagine hanging in a quiet spot behind a boulder or along the bank, but he also sensed the rush of narrow places and waterfalls.  He liked “rush”.  When he grew older, it would become a problem, a drug problem.

But now he just loved most going with Papop on his canoe, floating quietly along through the sun-dappled river under the arching trees and not even saying anything, because fish can hear, you know.  It was the walk back to the house when they could talk.  “Papop, did Grandpa Milt really give my mother to Hup?

“Well, that’s the way it’s been done for centuries, boy.  And then she gave you to him!”

“Does it mean Hup loves Grandpa Milt more than my mom?”  

Papop had a pretty good idea where the kid got this idea.  Those damned women were always fomenting discord, always trying to grab attention by confronting.  Why couldn’t they just bake pies, get a little praise for it, go to church?

“There are different kinds of love.”  The kid could never get much more out of Papop.  He could feel that there was a whole lot more to be said.

“If Milt owns me because he’s my father, do you own Milt?”  

Papop laughed bitterly, but he wouldn’t answer.  Then they were back at the house, almost late for supper.  At the last minute Papop muttered, "Nobody owns Hup."

None of the men was much good at vegetable gardening.  The women refused to do it.  They wouldn’t even grow flower borders.  So the kid got to do the honors.  Hup did the basic digging and planting, but then he handed the kid a hoe.  “Keep it sharp,” he said.  

So the kid did until he accidentally chopped his foot — not very seriously, but it infected and made him limp for weeks.  Papop showed him how to soak it in a bucket of salt water.  Hup said the kid’s limp was psychological, to get out of work.  Milt agreed that work was everything, work was survival, work was food.  They told the kid to stop dreaming and pay attention.  The women stayed out of it.

The kid certainly was a dreamer.  Even his school teachers said so.  They didn’t know that the storm of attempted sorting in his head over the women’s family quarrels and the men’s tough attitude about “manliness” was sometimes making him almost deaf and blind.  He went to the library and read books, because it almost helped.  He read Hemingway which did help and tried Faulkner, which didn’t.  He didn’t know about Steinbeck.  Then one day he found Whitman.  He had found his heart.  The others didn’t matter now.

Even when his aunt and mother had another fight over whether or not he might be gay, he didn’t care.  The poetry of Whitman sang in him through every fiber and breath.  

When his Papop died in his sleep (heart) the dynamics of the farm life were irrevocably changed along with the inheritances because now Hup owned the farm.  None of them had realized how Papop’s quiet presence had been a calming and a constraint on these two belligerent men.  Hup had never dared smack his wife and son around until Papop was gone.  Milt pretended he didn’t know.

The kid, who was growing quickly by now, heard his mother screaming one last time, took his fishing rod, and his Whitman book, and left in Papop’s canoe.  Teach a boy to fish, and he can feed himself.  Of course, the rivers were clean in those days.  But there are always men who read “Leaves of Grass” and he found them.

(Discussion of how and why I wrote this will follow tomorrow.)